Munster Rugby has made an “inspired appointment” in securing the services of Wallaby legend Stephen Larkham as the province’s attack coach, believes Donal Lenihan.
Munster today confirmed that former Brumbies ace Larkham (45) will join the coaching ticket under Johann van Graan, and Lenihan believes he will energise the Munster backs and their attack.
“If I was a Munster back I’d be energised and excited by the appointment. It is exactly what Munster require, a marquee signing who will bring a fresh and dynamic perspective to the attacking side of the game.
“He comes from a (Brumbies) culture that is all about flair, creativity and imagination and I think he is exactly what Munster needs.
I wrote a few months ago that Larkham would be my preferred choice to replace Felix (Jones) and it’s great that Munster have got their man.
Larkham has signed with the province until June 2022, subject to obtaining a work permit, having spent the last four years working for Australia.
Said acting CEO Philip Quinn: “We are very pleased to add Stephen to our coaching team and look forward to welcoming him to the province in August.
“Stephen’s values are very closely aligned with those of Munster and huge credit must go to the Professional Game Board and Johann for their work in bringing him to the province.
Stephen is a very successful coach who had offers from other clubs so we are delighted that he has decided to join Munster.
“We now have a four-man coaching team with head coach Johann van Graan supported by senior coach Stephen, forwards coach Graham Rowntree and defence coach JP Ferreira.
“It has been our intention to recruit one more member for our coaching ticket and we will evaluate our needs prior to progressing with that process.”
Added Larkham said: “I am very excited and honoured to be joining Munster Rugby.
“A big part of my decision lies in the values of the club and the importance they place on community. I have come from a very similar environment and know how effective and enjoyable that can be.
“I have had a number of conversations with Johann and I’m very excited to be working with him, as our views on rugby are very similar.
“I’m also looking forward to meeting and working with not only the other coaches in
Graham and JP but also the very talented group of players that Munster have.”
Of course, it won’t be lost on anyone - Munster management or supporters - that the cosmopolitan coaching ticket under South African van Graan has no indigenous voice for the first time.
Larkham’s coaching career began at the Brumbies in 2011 with the former Australia international elevated to the head coach role at the Super Rugby side within three years.
His success at the Brumbies led to Larkham’s appointment to the position of Wallabies attack coach on a part-time basis in 2015, a role he combined with his Head Coach duties at the Brumbies.
He held this role as Australia reached the Rugby World Cup final in 2015 and departed the Brumbies in 2017 to work full-time for Rugby Australia.
Munster still has an opening for a skills coach, but the appointment of Larkham, added to that of forwards coach Graham Rowntree, may lessen the urgency of that appointment.
This week, acting Munster CEO Philip Quinn told the Irish Examiner: “Bringing two new coaches into the team is a big change. Bringing a third person into it is even bigger, when you’ve only got Johann and JP (Ferreira) sitting there. So what we’ve agreed is once we get the senior coach agreed, let’s stop, take stock of where we’re at, sit down as a group again, probably in the next couple of weeks.”
He added: “We’ll involve the two new coaches in the discussions. We’ve a broad idea of what we want every coach to do at the moment but it’s a question of do we need that fifth coach at the moment or are we prepared to just carry on and see where we’re at?”
Larkham will be keen to get back to work after the controversial end to his tenure as backs and attack coach with Australia earlier this year. He was appointed by Michael Cheika four years ago, ahead of the last World Cup, but departed the post last February due to what he said at the time were fundamental differences over the side's overall philosophy.
He brings a strong reputation to Ireland. A hugely talented player who won 102 caps for Australia between out-half and full-back, Larkham’s been coaching for nine years, many of them with the Brumbies with whom he acted as backs coach and head coach.
His brief with Munster will be a simple one: to take the team's attack play to another level and help a province frustrated by so many semi-final and final defeats in the PRO14 and Europe to begin winning trophies again.
News of Larkham's imminent arrival comes on the back of confirmation that former England prop Graham Rowntree is to link up with the two-time European champions as forwards coach after the World Cup.
Rowntree, who replaces Jerry Flannery, is currently filling the same role with Georgia who are in the same group as Australia and Wales in the 2019 global tournament.